|Introduction: Give description of Forest Rights Act.|
Body: Highlight the challenges faced by northeastern states in implementation of FRA.
Conclusion: Way Forward
The Forest Rights Act, also known as the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, is a significant piece of legislation in India aimed at recognizing and protecting the forest rights of indigenous and forest-dwelling communities. Recently, several states of the Northeast have opposed the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Act, 2023 which allows the diversion of forest land for roads, railway lines, or “strategic linear projects of national importance and concerning national security” without a forest clearance under the Forest (Conservation) Act (FCA) 1980.
Overview of implementation of FRA in the Northeast:
- Constitutional safeguards: Special constitutional provisions like 371A & 371B for Nagaland & Mizoram prohibit the application of any law enacted by Parliament that impinges on Naga and Mizo customary law and procedure, and ownership and transfer of land and its resources.
- Slow implementation: Northeast India is home to numerous indigenous communities with cultural & historical ties to forests. Another reason for the slow implementation of the act is the complex topography & post-independence insurgency in the area.
- Non-implementation: None of the Northeast States have implemented FRA except for Assam and Tripura with the reason being that most land is owned by communities, clans, chiefs, and individuals & limited presence of forest-dwellers who are totally forest dependent.
Challenges faced by Northeast states in implementation:
- Complicated land tenure system: Northeast India has a complicated system of land tenure that includes communal ownership, customary land rights, and shifting farming (jhum). It can be challenging to identify and recognize forest rights because of these complications, which can result in overlapping claims and disputes.
- Lack of infrastructure: In rural and hilly regions of the northeastern states, a lack of adequate infrastructure, like as roads and communication networks, might make it difficult to access government services linked to the FRA and file claims.
- Balancing “rights” with “conservation”: The northeastern region is ecologically rich and home to several protected areas and biodiversity hotspots. Balancing the rights of indigenous communities with conservation goals has led to conflicts and debates about the implementation of the FRA.
- Natural resources: Natural resources including timber and minerals are abundant in certain northeastern states. Conflicts over land use may result from the extraction of these resources, endangering indigenous populations’ rights to their forested areas.
There is a need to maintain a balance to provide tenurial security to forest dwellers and protect the forests. Both state government & Ministry of Tribal Affairs can help maintain this balance to ensure mandatory fulfillment of the FRA before diverting the land for other purposes